Jérémie Berrebi is a serial entrepreneur and a millionaire. You cannot mess with his agenda. When I contacted him to invite him to the AlumnIsrael conference (Association of French Business Schools Alumni that settled in Israel), he offered me a quick opportunity to discuss it over the phone, on the following Thursday, from 3:35 pm to 3:50pm. Let me tell you – I was on time. He finally granted me 18 minutes, for which I was extremely grateful.
At 41, Jérémie Berrebi is above all an investor who has participated in 360 projects in 26 countries. Among his many investments are the launch of the online paying systems Leetchi and Mango Pay. He also created two investment funds: Kima Ventures, with Xavier Niel, the successful French CEO of Free, and Magical Capital, in Israel. Still, to me he seemed a very relaxed and simple man, glowing with good vibes, and the kind of inspiring person who makes you smile and motivates the launch your next project. During the 2 hour conference (he even stayed to hang out with the crowd until 10:00 pm), we had the chance to hear his business tips but also to get insights into his life, which is even more valuable. How can you build an empire in just a few years? How can you manage your time, succeed at so many initiatives while also building a family?
Here are five takeaways from the quintessential Startup Nation man, who continuously reinvents himself.
#1 Time management is essential
Jérémie Berrebi is relaxed and relatable despite his many responsibilities. He started his career as an Internet journalist, in a not so remote period of time (the 90s), when the hourly connexion costs were 80 French francs ($20, which was quite a fortune) and when each picture took hours to display on the screen. His first successful company, the e-commerce platform Zlio, was penalized by search engines and collapsed in 2011. But afterwards he jumped on several new projects simultaneously as the founder, investor, advisor, and board member..
How does he manage this intense level of commitment? Jérémie explains that managing his agenda carefully is essential. He advises against distractions that take up valuable time. Jeremy does not have a smartphone. No Internet. No Whatsapp, Google, Facebook, or messenger apps during the day. He doesn’t even have internet in his house, except in a small working space. “I have a phone,” he says. “you can call me if there’s an emergency. As I am not a doctor, there usually aren’t any.”
Do you know what it means? It means that if you have something to tell him, you write to him or schedule a call, and you think twice before doing it. No frivolous chatting.
Jeremie managed to get rid of the unnecessary and thoughtless communication that pollutes our lives. If every single message you received was carefully thought out, you could focus so much more on what matters to you.
Ok, we all know the danger of smartphones, and we know that most of the decision makers in the Silicon Valley prevent their kids from becoming addicts and place their children in “tech free” schools. I feel very concerned, not only because I’m a Generation Y product, but even more so because my job – thinking about content strategy for a brand, a business owner, a start-up – requires being 100% focused on tech for many hours during the day. In The Attention Diet, an article I recommend reading, on how to strengthen your concentration, author Mark Manson gives practical advice on getting rid of digital pollution and anti-productive distractions that pull us down.
I think this radical technique is rarely realistic for adults who use their smartphones for work. Still, I personally cleaned my phone from time-consuming apps. I also snoozed instant messengers such as Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger, and I’ve also activated the “do not disturb” mode which mutes calls from 10:00 pm to 7:00 am.
#2 Reinventing yourself is key
When you move to a new country – for idealistic or professional reasons – you are first and foremost an immigrant who has to learn to survive in a brand new environment. This is a difficult to swallow for those who studied in the best business schools, as was the case at this particular conference. Most of us studied and organized our lives around our chosen careers. We are prepared for a lot of things, but not for this reality of being newcomers and feeling unequipped. Jérémie Berrebi, who has rebounded despite crises and various projects, explained that through his career, he did not try to stay in his comfort zone. In fact, he consciously avoided it like when he moved from one industry to another, moved countries, and invested in new projects. Lately, he even participated in the launch of Developers.Institute, a bootcamp in Tel Aviv meant for people eager to give a new turn to their career.
I now ask myself every day: “How can I improve X or Y?” I am talking about improving processes, the systems of my life and making sure that I’m not taking the way I live for granted.
#3 Balance between family and professional life is crucial (spoiler: Jérémie has 14 children)
Jérémie Berrebi’s private life is clearly something that he carefully preserves by imposing strict limits (no using the phone, internet and other technologies on weekends in order to spend quality time with his family). He has created a set time to think and live, without being interrupted by the endless roar of modernity.
Beyond all of his professional projects and startups which he has invested in and Boards of companies on which he advises, Jeremy has a second life no less interesting than his career identity. The most impressive fact about Jeremy is that he is the father of fourteen children. Sorry, he now has fifteen children, because a new baby joined the family between the conference and the writing of my article. For the community of normal people to whom I belong, and who have between 0 and 4 kids, this astronomical figure does not correspond to any conceivable reality. He had to buy a bus to commute with his family and, he admits, only his wife has the bus driving license.
With such a large family, if you want to get time with your loved ones, there is no time for distractions.
Morality: the greater the workload, the faster you must get sh** done.
#4 Failure should not prevent you from launching projects
“Who is the Sage? The one who falls 7 times and gets up 8”. This saying is well-known, but hard to put into practice after undergoing a professional failure. Yet, we often succeed precisely because we have failed before. Jeremy is not afraid to confess having failed more than once. The day he closed one of his businesses, he smiled serenely, and his assistant was quite surprised. He explained that “failure is only one step towards another successful project”. He truly embodies this. He is someone who sees the positive, believes in what he does and is motivated by his failures.
Some might believe that it’s easy to be confident when you have an impressive track record of success stories behind you like Jeremy does. Incidentally, he is an extremely hard worker. He gets up early and goes to sleep late. He mentioned that he once was a guest on a radio show between 3:00 and 4:00 am. Does he have a hidden twin somewhere? Here’s one of his little secrets: he confessed that he takes a nap in the afternoons. Taking time to rest and staying positive seem to be keys to maintaining motivation for new projects and initiatives.“You have to trust yourself and go for it. Either it will work or it will not work. Either way, it will be a step in the right direction.. A “failed” project will give rise to several others”.
#5 Keep the faith in yourself
Above all this interview with Jeremie Berrebi taught me one thing: Never deny who you are, or the principles that govern your life.
Jeremie kept kosher even in the highest political circles. He did not compromise and confidently explained with tact what his limits and dietary restrictions were.
Jeremie maintained his pride in being French no matter who he was with. Rather than trying to fit in with the crowd, he never hid or put down his identity. He learned to arrange appointments in English and assert himself in a language that was not his own. As for his personal life in Israel, he always had an approach of not living in a vacuum and socializing with confidence, by getting involved in local organizations and social events with his kids for example.
His bottom line is, if you have an idea, get started. As the Sages say: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if not now, when?”.